Review: Hamlet, Riverside Studios

Hiraeth Artistic Productions’s version of Hamlet, directed by Zoé Ford grabs my attention from the get go. Set in a contemporary prison, Hamlet, played by Adam Lawrence is arrested, stripped and led to his cell.

Riverside Studios’ generous stage provides the perfect space for an interesting and powerful set design. Walls of prison bars are moved in sync, between hands, partnered with music and lighting to create a brooding and dangerous atmosphere.

We take a little while to settle into this gloriously provocative version; regional accents infiltrate our ears and minds, reawakening and reinventing the text. Shakespeare’s words are dappled frequently with contemporary colloquialisms. A fine example is Darcy Vanhinsbergh’s portrayal of Laertes as he banters with his father, Polonius (Anthony Kernan). His subtle, yet very specific additions let us peep into their relationship further, a relationship that along with others falls apart so sadly in this tragedy.

Adam Lawrence’s Hamlet contemplates, vexes and revenges full throttle, his foot firmly on the pedal. We’re hooked on his adrenaline-fuelled journey. Wild behind the eyes, his objective is strong, but also punctuated with intermittent laughter at his own disbelief of the happenings around him. These light touches deflate the tension for both Hamlet and us as the audience, as we watch a man unravel from within.

The group scenes with the prisoners and Hamlet’s friends are the most arresting for me. The camaraderie, loyalty and intricacy of their characters leave no moment untouched: I am fascinated by every single one of them. The air is bated between them all.  Unsure of whether they will unite or charge at one another, the friction tremors between Hamlet and the men he doesn’t trust. Fight scenes created by Josh Jefferies add to this very tense atmosphere.

Aside from the undeniably exciting and innovative context, this version of one of Shakespeare’s best known plays has very obviously been examined vigorously by the director Zoé Ford (currently text assistant at Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Julius Caesar).  She is a very significant talent, along with her fearless and extraordinary actors, and team of creatives including stage manager Sinéad Pounder and designer Anna Reid. A play stamped with blood and madness becomes a piece of theatre in its newest form. Fasten your seatbelt for it!

Hamlet is playing at Riverside Studios until the 22 June. For more information and tickets, see the Riverside Studios website.